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IDF delegation arrives in Washington, DC

What happened: IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi arrived in Washington last night where he will hold talks with senior US defence officials over the coming days.

  • Kohavi is joined by several senior officers such as the head of the general staff’s Strategy and Third Circle Directorate, Maj. Gen. Tal Kalman, and the head of IDF Military Intelligence research directorate, Brig. Gen. Amit Sa’ar.
  • The visit is scheduled to last six days and will focus on the expected US return to the JCPOA nuclear agreement and Iranian entrenchment in the region, Hezbollah’s efforts to improve its military capabilities and the threat of its precision-guided missiles, and IDF lessons from Operation Guardian of the Walls.
  • In the cabinet meeting yesterday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett commented on the election of Ebrahim Raisi as the next President of Iran. He said: “Let there be no doubt — it wasn’t the public that elected him, but [Supreme Leader] Khamenei only allowed them to elect. They elected the hangman from Tehran.”
  • The prime minister added: “Raisi is personally responsible for the murder of many thousands of innocent Iranian citizens. Raisi’s election is a signal to the world powers to wake up, possibly a last signal a moment before the return to the nuclear agreement, to understand with whom they are doing business and what kind of regime they are choosing to empower. The thing that is clear to all of us is that a regime of hangmen must not possess weapons of mass destruction. That is the State of Israel’s clear and consistent position.”
  • The security cabinet of the new government meet for the first time yesterday. The primary purpose of the meeting was to bring all the members up to speed since most of them had not served on the security cabinet in recent years.
  • Also yesterday, diplomats in Vienna began the sixth round of indirect talks between the US and Iran on returning to the JCPOA nuclear deal. The US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said Sunday there was “still a fair distance to travel” on issues including the lifting of sanctions and on the commitments Iran needs to make.

Context: Israel is working on the assumption that the election of President Raisi may complicate talks in Vienna and delay any progress, giving them a narrow window to try to influence the Biden administration and the emerging agreement.

  • This is a change in Israeli policy; whereas Benjamin Netanyahu viewed the JCPOA agreement as fundamentally flawed and forbade Israeli diplomats or security officials from discussing details of the deal with the Americans, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has opted for a different approach that aims to influence its allies.
  • Kohavi is likely to try and reach agreement with the Americans on a plan of action in order to ensure that Iran upholds its nuclear commitments while at the same time setting red lines in case Iran violates them.
  • This morning Israeli media published a document written by three former Israeli officials warning that Iran’s nuclear violations over the last two years have seriously eroded the JCPOA’s primary goal of keeping Iran’s nuclear breakout time to at least one year.
  • The document calls on the US to condition a return to the JCPOA agreement on removing all the advanced centrifuges that it has installed in the last few years, and to implement the original JCPOA Section T monitoring regime on weaponisation of nuclear designs – that has not been implemented since the JCPOA signing in 2015.
  • The authors, Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Aharon Zeevi Farkash, former Head of the Israeli Military Intelligence Directorate (Aman) 2002-2006, Gideon Frank, former Director General of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission 1993-2007, and Ariel Levite, former deputy director general for policy at the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission from 2002-2007, argue that a partial return to the JCPOA by the US would be worse than a full return to the nuclear agreement.
  • Prime Minister Bennett and his government are mindful not to publicly criticise the Biden administration, especially as reports suggest the US plans to reduce its military presence in the Middle East.

Looking ahead: Kohavi will meet with his American counterpart Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, as well as National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

  • Kohavi and his team aim to show the US the operational and intelligence gaps that could develop after American troops leave the Middle East and what Israel will require as a result.
  • Outgoing President Reuven Rivlin and Mossad Director David Barnea are scheduled to visit the US in the coming weeks to continue the effort.

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